United call to save rainforests


By John Revington

LISMORE — Thirty-six organisations, representing more than half a million Australians, have endorsed a call for immediate action to stop rainforest destruction.

Despite professions of concern from overdeveloped countries like Australia about global rainforest destruction, there is little acknowledgement of the decisive part we play in this tragedy. The Australian Rainforest Memorandum addresses this deficiency. It describes Australia's involvement and how this involvement can be stopped.

Like the German memorandum that inspired it, the Australian version is based on the premise that the most effective way any country can preserve rainforests is to stop destroying them.

Groups signing the memorandum include the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society, Greenpeace Australia, the Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign, trade unions and companies.

Linked with the myth that tropical deforestation is purely the responsibility of the Third World is the myth that the people of the Third World benefit from the destruction. It is the rich in these countries who make the profits, while for the poor, deforestation often means extreme hardship, starvation and the death of their cultures.

Australia is involved internationally in rainforest destruction in three main ways: by importing tropical timber, through the activities of Australian companies and through the policies of the federal government, which allow the aid funding of projects that destroy rainforests. As well as dealing with these issues, the memorandum exposes the claim that Australia's own rainforests have been saved, and shows how logging and clearing continue in all states where significant stands remain.

Included in its recommendations is the call for a conditional ban on the import of tropical timbers. Federal cabinet will soon make a decision on this issue, and the memorandum is a powerful message to a government whose environmental credentials are in tatters.

The government may try to placate environmentalists by announcing a ban will be imposed in five or 10 years. Such a decision would be inadequate. Decisive action needs to be taken in the next few years if the world's rainforests are to stand any chance of survival, and as an immediate first step, the trade in non-sustainable tropical timber must be stopped.

Over 17 million hectares of tropical forest are being destroyed each year, much of it by logging, and if present rates of destruction continue, all the world's tropical forests will be gone in 30 years.

The memorandum's signatories do not believe a ban should be imposed in isolation. Its recommendations include compensatory payments to countries that refrain from destroying their forests and the cancellation of debts that contribute to the destruction of rainforests. (Many governments exploit their forests to make payments they owe to rich countries.)

Anyone wishing to call for an end to our involvement in this immoral and destructive trade can contact their federal member of parliament, urging them to support the imposition of a conditional ban on imports into Australia, and write to Gareth Evans, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Parliament House, Canberra.

The Rainforest Information Centre here would like to hear from organisations interested in endorsing the memorandum. Copies are available from PO Box 368, Lismore NSW 2480 (ph: 066 218 505) for $7.00 (postage included).